Oscar Wilde Meets André Gide

“I have put all my genius into my life; I have put only my talent into my art.”

                        —Oscar Wilde, quoted by André Gide in Oscar Wilde


“He was crucified by society and the, through that crucifixion, became immortal. The fall, I think, is an artistic statement of its own.”

Rupert Everett, currently appearing in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss,

quoted by Michael Schulman in The New Yorker

Future Nobel Prize laureate André Gide  (1869-1951) first encountered Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) near the height of the Irish poet, dramatist, and raconteur’s fame. “His success was so certain that it seemed that it preceded Wilde and that all he had to do was go forward to meet it.” They saw each other again three years later, in Algeria, when a world-weary Wilde predicted that “Something must happen . . .” A year later, of course, Wilde met not with success but with the opprobrium of society after he was convicted of “gross indecency” and sentenced to two years’ hard labor in Reading Gaol.

Upon his release, Wilde fled to Europe under an assumed name. But he is clearly still Wilde, Gide at first thinks, “the same worn look, the same amused laugh, the same voice.” Yet, as Gide generously allows Wilde to speak, it becomes clear how his imprisonment has changed the man. In one literary genius’s personal memories of another, we are granted the chance to see the talent and the genius; and begin to understand how and why these two great men came to be enduring icons of LGBTQ culture and light posts on the road to society’s recognition.

Oscar Wilde’s talent is fully on display in The Wisdom of Oscar Wilde, a volume containing a thorough sampling of his written work. Part one is a thematically organized selection of his wittiest, most quotable lines (“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”). Part two consist of excerpts from his early poetry, literary appreciations (e.g., W.B. Yeats’s first book of poems, the novels of Dostoevsky) and excerpts from his fairy tales and other prose (e.g., a section from The Picture of Dorian Gray as well as Wilde’s rejoinder to a morally indignant response by the press, Finally, here is “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” (“And all men kill the thing they love”) and an excerpt from the posthumously published De Profundis.

June is designated LGBTQ History Month, something that neither Oscar Wilde nor Andre Gide could have imagined. Wilde died a full three generations or more before the Stonewall uprising; Gide was born a hundred years before the event. Yet their contribution to the ultimate acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, and transgender people is immeasurable, and the historical line is clear. And, clearly, there is no real need for a “designated” period to gain wisdom and inside, and be entertained by Books of Lasting Value.